The Minister of State for Education, Mr. Emeka Nwajiuba, in this interview, tells GRACE EDEMA that the striking unions – Academic Staff Union of Universities, the Joint Action Committee of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions – are mean and wicked for shutting down universities across the country
Has the government been able to get in touch with SSANU, and NASU? What message do you have for them?
The ASUP negotiation team led by the Joint Council Chairman is negotiating for the polytechnics. That negotiation is ongoing for the polytechnics sector.
I met with some academic colleagues and we assured them. The same things that ASUU is asking for are also what they are asking for. But theirs is different because they are willing to bear with the government even with the N15bn that is due to them not having been released for almost three years. They are willing to continue working. The place where we have this issue of suspension of work is with ASUU, SSANU,,, and NASU. We believe that every union is entitled to make requests and the government has almost agreed with them in respect of all of the demands. The government is only releasing money as it has it. On the renegotiation with ASUU and the ministry, a committee has already been constituted, and everything ASUU asked has already been met. The only departure is in the willingness of ASUU and SSANU to continue working while the same entitlements are being worked on. The unions in the polytechnics also have the same entitlements but they are willing to continue working while they get their entitlements. There is nothing that they are doing or asking for that is wrong. The issue is not whether they are right or wrong. What we’ve consistently asked is government and the people of Nigeria will continue to look into the matter because if you disrupt academic sessions because of one entitlement, you would eventually get the entitlement but we would have lost the time our children would have used in learning. You are being mean. There is no point in disrupting everybody’s life because you have not got your money.
I think it’s because the unions believe the language the government understands is strike…
Well, the strike has not produced the money they are asking for. If the money was there, they would have been paid the day they started the strike.
Otherwise, the government would have heard them from day one. Every strike they went on, they still got the money but human beings were lost. They are not only being wicked to the government but they are also wicked to the human beings that constitute Nigeria because eventually, they will get their money. The government is not going to take away the money.
Why is the government not considering the home-grown IPPIS, because there have been a lot of complaints about it?
Let me explain to you: when you look at ASUU if you are talking about the welfare of your staff in the union; that is understandable. The IPPIS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System) is paying people. Some people believe IPPIS is not working efficiently, if it is so, they should ask for their money. So, saying that government should use home-grown means of paying money is an option for the government.
What is your message for Nigerians?
My message is we understand what they have been saying. The 2.2 million children we have in tertiary institutions who are in the universities and other tertiary institutions, and the nearly 100,000 lecturers, that work with them are a very important segment of our workforce. But then, they are not the only people in Nigeria. There are unionists in so many different parts, including the army, and police. All we manage to sell after banditry attacks is just less than 1,000 barrels of oil in a day. When the money comes in, it is that money we are going to use to pay the rest of the police, man o’ war, and all the civil defense groups and other organizations in Nigeria. It is that same money you are going to use in paying secondary-school teachers. You are going to pay everybody with this little money. To build infrastructure, the government just goes around begging China, begging this, begging that, but to pay salaries, we have to sell this little crude oil to keep the lives of 200-so million lives running. You can see what the Ministry of Finance is doing – it gave N50bn, N20bn – we don’t have N200bn in the coffers at a go. When the last President signed the agreement, he thought he might have the money. He was not properly guided; he just went to the TETFund and took 200bn and gave it to the university now the TETFund is in an N300bn deficit. The government can’t be managed like that: The government is not run by robbing Peter to pay Paul. All the money that we gave in 2017, 2018, and up until 2020 was money that we managed to get out of the system. They might be up to N200bn at a time, but we’ve been able to pay Earned Allowances three times already. We pay each as they come.
There have been complaints that what the government is trying to do is to devalue the Nigerian tertiary institutions like secondary schools so that in a few years, people will be attending only private institutions. What do you have to say about that?
In all this, the Federal Government is creating more public schools instead of reducing them; we are not closing them down. We licensed 20 universities last year; another 12 this year. We believe that Nigeria is still below 250 universities for 250 million people. Now, every year, we get about 1.5 million people writing UTME. When they finish writing we can only absorb about 600 and something thousand. That’s the entire capacity of the country. So they are perennial JAMBites. This is not like a country doing well. So how can anyone complain now that we are expanding capacities?
But ASUU claims that the proliferation of universities is not favorable and that the existing universities are not even being funded.
As a plan, the objective of the government is to train and give as many people access as possible. The objective of ASUU is to make sure that their staff is getting very good condition of service. That’s how unions can engage the government. But that’s not something you go on strike for.